Album Review (with bonus movie talk): Daft Punk – TRON: Legacy Original Soundtrack

by Gordon Elgart on December 17, 2010

I’m a fan of the original 1982 movie TRON, even though I’m aware it’s kinda crappy. So I’ve been following the TRON: Legacy hype pretty closely for the last few years. And when I was sent Daft Punk’s TRON: Legacy Original Soundtrack for review, I immediately emailed our lead film reviewer, Jason LeRoy, and called dibs when he got his tickets for a preview screening. Then I began listening to Daft Punk’s film score to get myself psyched. And it worked. I was psyched.

The score itself borrows pretty heavily from other compositions. The lead theme is clearly borrowed from Copland’s “Fanfare For the Common Man,” and the whole thing is so reminiscent of Hans Zimmer, especially his score for Inception, it made me wonder out loud if Hans Zimmer was brought in late in the game to help Daft Punk make the score more “score-y.” (I even played a game with a co-worker who said they sound nothing alike called “TRON or Inception” where I played him bits from the soundtrack, and he went 2-for-4, which is pretty good for baseball, but is basically the same as guessing.)

Still, there’s some standout tracks on here that make the soundtrack a bit unsafe as driving music. The single, “Derezzed,” and its accompanying video, with jousting light cycles on a grid that looks more like 1982 than 2010, is the absolute perfect promotional clip for this movie. After watching that clip, and listening to the blistering score, I was ready for an action-packed thrill ride that, unfortunately, was not in my future.

For as I sat down with my 3D glasses on to watch TRON: Legacy, with my Mickey-in-the-TRON-suit pin on my jacket and an extra jump in my step, I was welcomed by a disclaimer telling us that some of the scenes of this movie will be in 2D, which is how it was shot and was meant to be seen. That has a Wizard of Oz feel about it, except for in that classic film, no one thought the audience needed a disclaimer “some of this movie is in black and white, which is how it was shot and meant to be seen.” They just got to watch the damned movie.

Anyway, it’s about 30 minutes into the movie when our “hero” finally enters the grid, after a bunch of yakkety yak setup that is an excuse to say something about Dillinger (fan service!) and have a Cillian Murphy cameo, because none of this stuff is going to have a payoff later.  This is a consistent theme in the movie: it’s about 98% setup and 2% payoff.

He gets to the grid, and the movie becomes 3-D, and finally there’s some effective use of the pounding Daft Punk score in what I’ll refer to as “the good part” of the movie, where there’s flying discs and light cycles and not too much terrible dialogue. It looks and sounds really cool, and I finally got excited for the thrill ride to come. There’s a callback to the original movie, as Sam escapes from the light cycle grid through a hole in the wall, and then …

… they start talking …

… and talking …

… and the momentum just stops. It never returns. My favorite scene in the movie is simultaneously the best and worst scene, as it features a hilarious Michael Sheen performance more suited to a cult classic like The Apple than the dull movie he’s actually in. So even though it features some of the worst action film clichés ever (Spoiler: the person you need to talk to in order to be introduced to the mysterious powerful guy IS the mysterious powerful guy. Didn’t see that coming!), it literally has Daft Punk in a DJ booth turning on “the fight music” when the fight starts. It’s silly and colorful and fun to watch.

But that’s really the last time this movie is fun to watch, and there’s still another 30-45 minutes of boredom to come.

People might defend the movie by saying it’s a fun popcorn movie, but it’s not fun, and it’s not trying to be a popcorn movie. It’s trying to be hard science fiction with an important message about something regarding being careful about the programs you create because they might come back to imprison you in your own world or try to build an army of programs that can get into the real world somehow and take over even though they don’t actually exist or something. But this is explained over and over again, and in the end, still doesn’t make sense beyond the obvious plot, which is get from point A to point B while protecting the Macguffin. And if they had stuck with that, and thought of ways to make it driving and energetic, there’d be something to see here.

There’s a part in this movie where Sam Flynn is introduced to his dad’s old light cycle, and is told it’s the fastest thing on the grid, a classic, and you know that at some point he’s going to take this light cycle and use it to outrun people in a cool action sequence. At least that’s what would happen in a better movie.

In this movie, he steals it to go downtown, and gives it to some guy so he can borrow a cloak. Ugh.

When this boring disaster of a film was done, I sheepishly removed my Mickey TRON pin and put it away, ashamed to be a TRON fan.

The next day, I listened to the soundtrack album again, and tried to make excuses for the movie. Instead, I figured out what I want to see. When the Blu-ray of this one comes out, I’d like someone to edit together a 20-30 minute silent movie of just the good stuff, set to Daft Punk music. It will be a lot like Interstella 5555, and perhaps that’s how it should be. For in the end, there’s good music and good production design, and the rest be damned.

Come to think of it, that’s just like the original TRON.

Gordon Elgart

A music nerd who probably uses that term too much. I have a deep love for bombastic, quirky and dynamic music.

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